At the AAAI Subhas Ghosal Memorial in Mumbai on 7 October Aroon Purie, chairman and editor-in-chief, India Today Group, spoke about the balance that the media today needs to achieve.
He believes that it needs to meet financial targets, as well as handle the pressure that comes from advertisers, as well as the government.
The media currency
Purie highlighted that the currency for the media industry has to be credibility. “Many media houses are still serving society and are known for their credibility. However, media in India is very cheap, as compared to other countries. The subscription model for digital platforms is very successful abroad, but not here,” he said.
He added that since cable connection is cheap too, news channels depend on advertisers and chase TRPs.
Speaking about the rating system, Purie expressed concerns about BARC and shared that the India Today Group is in talks with the company to address them. “Any industry body needs constant improvement and updating. It is a challenge to predict TV viewership in a large market. We need to look at the mistakes and evaluate what needs to be taken out.”
Purie then went on to talk about the two events that marked the success story for the India Today Group.
He said, “The 1977 and 1980 elections paved the growth road for our first publication – India Today magazine. Although we launched it in December 1975, during the emergency period, the newspaper coverage even two years later was quite dull and the printing quality was bad. However, our magazine with good content and quality printing got an edge. Its circulation grew from 15,000 to 1,00,000. There was no looking back.”
Speaking of what enhanced the group’s credibility, Purie shared that it was the magazine’s first poll survey conducted, ahead of the 1980 elections.
“We did this with the suggestion and help of two professors from the Delhi School of Economics – Prannoy Roy and Ashok Lahiri. Many believed that the Janta Party government would come into power. However, our survey rightly predicted that the Indira Gandhi-led Congress government would return with a majority,” he said.
Purie reminisced how this was a huge victory for him, and even had him lunching with industrialist GD Birla when he was just 36 years old.
Purie also shared a little backstory of how he was born in Lahore and what his family did after they shifted to Mumbai, post a traumatic partition, “My father started financing films like ‘Aag’, ‘Mother India’, ‘Awara’ and ‘Naya Daur’, all of which were successful in those days.”
Speaking of his own success, he said, “I don’t know how, but it could be the series of incidents, coincidences, my education and several other things. The things that helped me were – being a CA and knowing how to ask questions until I had clarity. As a non-journalist, I understood what an average reader likes. I had a passion for work, with no preconceived ideas.”
He added that he took up chartered accountancy from LSE, as suggested by his father after his family shifted to Delhi due to a family tragedy.
Purie was then told to work as an auditor in London in 1970, and visit the Thomson Press in Faridabad, which his father had established in collaboration with British media baron Paul Reuter.
Speaking about the challenges he faced after deciding to stay back and handle the business, he said, “I worked as a production controller. Although we implemented better technology for quality printing, we were printing content for others. We then thought of having our own publication, but still failed after trying out several things.”
Then came the magazine from the India Today Group in 1975, which was the brainchild of Purie and his father, during the emergency period.
“The idea of the magazine was conceived before the emergency but was rolled out in December 1975. Now, in 47 years, we have launched 56 publications and channels, some of which have shut down,” he added.
The group entered video journalism in 1988 and has a full-fledged 24/7 news channel today.
Stating that one should never fall in love with their product, he acknowledged how the press faced multiple attacks on its dignity throughout the years.
“A free press is a force for good. The next time you castigate the press, think if India would be better off without it,” he surmised. Campaign India